SEO or SEM? What to Build into Your Site Design

Sometimes, Search Engine Optimization seems like it is its own world, with its own rules and its own language. The acronyms alone can be intimidating to the uninitiated: SERP, PPC, KPI (Search Engine Results Page, Pay-Per-Click, and Key Performance Indicator, respectively), just to name a few.

So it is not altogether surprising when we hear customers say they would like their website designed for SEM … when they really mean SEO. The two industry acronyms are often confused, but the terms are not interchangeable: SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing) work hand in hand, but there is a world of difference between them.

What Is SEO?

SEO is the art of optimizing all the elements of your website for user search engines like Google. That means creating engaging, useful, and entertaining content, but it also involves making sure your visual pieces can be searched, building in a seamless user experience, and developing the site so that users find what they’re looking for quickly and easily—regardless of what device (phone, tablet, computer) they’re using.

These things can—and should—be built into the site when it is first designed and programmed. Here at Spilled Milkshake, we go out of our way to inform clients how their sites can be optimized in the development process. While this benefits the client on multiple levels, the core goal here is to try to get the website to show up as close to the top as possible in an organic search. That means creating content that answers users’ questions before they’re even asked, and thoroughly checking each site for anything that might make a page get skipped over by search engines.

What Is SEM?

SEM—sometimes referred to as pay-per-click (PPC) advertising—is more about driving the visibility of your website in search engines, beyond the overall contact. In this instance, you are actually paying for ads specifically developed to target the keywords your customers are searching for.

This is an ongoing process that has little to nothing to do with the site’s design or content. At its core, SEO essentially comes down to creating the best and safest website possible… but then hoping it will gain attention for that reason. SEM, on the other hand, is a more proactive process wherein you are actually sending messages out across the web: “We have what you are looking for, it’s right here.”

Both types are based on the idea of creating traffic for your website. Since the two approaches tackle the problem from different directions, they can be effectively combined as part of an ongoing online digital marketing business strategy.

Using SEO & SEM Together

It is theoretically possible, of course, to run a successful SEM campaign without SEO. It will likely deliver less than ideal results, however: you would basically be driving traffic to a site by promising information that may or may not exist there. Visitors to your site won’t stay if they don’t find answers, and it could actually do your site more harm than good.

By the same token, it is theoretically possible run an SEO campaign without investing in SEM … but as we mentioned, in doing so you create a situation that is dependent on others to actually discover your site and spread the word. That usually takes a lot more time, and you might not be in a position to hold on until it happens. The best approach is to develop your website based on built-in and ongoing SEO elements, then supplement this with SEM campaigns that help inform customers what you have to offer

If we think of it in terms of more traditional marketing, SEO is word-of-mouth advertising, while SE is more like paid media. A billboard or television spot might pull a customer into your store, but if the service is inferior and the shelves are only half-stocked, what are the odds you’ll get a repeat visit? Worse, people will tell their friends to stay away.

Conversely, having fair pricing, friendly clerks, and brightly lit aisles with a good selection? That’s a recipe for success … but only if people KNOW that. Working in tandem, SEM’s job is to get people to check you out, while SEO is designed to ensure they want to stay awhile and come back often.

If you’re looking to establish a strong online presence and pull a positive return on investment, your key strategy should involve balancing the immediate results of SEM with a site specifically designed to leverage SEO techniques. The sooner you start to implement this one-two punch, the better. If you’d like help, just give us a call.